The Daily Stream: King Of The Hill Is A Sweetly Funny Slice Of Animated Americana

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The series: "King of the Hill"

Where you can stream it: Hulu

The Pitch: There are quite a few working class animated TV families, the descendants of "The Simpsons" and live-action sitcoms like "All in the Family." Each offers a different taste of family life in America: the Belchers of "Bob's Burgers" are coastal city dwellers, while the Simpsons are from somewhere in middle America, living in a town called Springfield. (There are Springfields in almost every state in the United States. Seriously.) 

"King of the Hill" nails a specific setting perfectly, however: the fictional town of Arlen, Texas. They say that everything is bigger in Texas, and that can unfortunately include stereotypes, which "King of the Hill" both embraces and subverts in order to tell a compelling, surprisingly wholesome story about the Hill family and their neighbors. 

The Hill family are led by patriarch Hank (co-creator Mike Judge), who is as straight-laced as they come and is devoted to his family and his job as a propane salesman. His wife Peggy (Kathy Najimy) is a Boggle-loving substitute Spanish teacher who usually means well but can be blinded by her own hubris. Their only son, Bobby (Pamela Adlon), is a sensitive, excitable, passionate kid who is extremely secure in his version of masculinity despite being a near-constant concern for his dear dad. Over the course of 13 seasons, viewers got to know the Hill family and the rest of Arlen almost as closely as their own families, and learn and grow along with them. 

Why it's essential viewing

The thing that sets "King of the Hill" apart from its animated comedy contemporaries is its tone. The series somehow manages to be completely earnest and heartfelt, while still being absolutely hilarious. It's a fine line to walk, but is executed masterfully by co-creators Greg Daniels and Mike Judge

Those who know Judge best from the inconsequential, ridiculous antics of his series "Beavis and Butt-Head" might be disappointed to find there's a bit more depth here, but there's still plenty of goofy, occasionally juvenile humor. While "Beavis and Butt-Head" can occasionally be very mean, "King of the Hill" doesn't have a single mean thing about it. Sure, some of the characters will do hurtful things, but the show always shows the negative impact of their actions. "King of the Hill" is full of life lessons for people of all ages, but it never feels like an after-school special. It's not preachy, its heart is just firmly in the right place. 

The majority of the humor in "King of the Hill" comes from just how strange but relatable the characters happen to be. I'd be hard pressed to find anyone who has lived in a working class American suburb who hasn't met a good ole boy with a heart of gold like Hank Hill, or a conspiracy theorist who doesn't know his head from his backside, like Dale Gribble (Johnny Hardwick). The characters are all flawed and occasionally frustrating, just like real people, and it makes "King of the Hill" feel like so much more than just another cartoon. 

A nuanced look at the American suburb

If there's one thing that my 20 years in the South have taught me, it's that people aren't always what they seem. For example, from the outside Hank Hill might look like your typical hick, but once you look deeper, you realize he's trying his best to be a good person. That's the thing about "King of the Hill" — aside from one or two side characters, nobody is a malicious or evil person. They're all flawed, and some of them are more deeply damaged than others, but they're all just doing their best. They also grow and change as the series progresses, and the extremely conservative Hank becomes more progressive as time goes on and he learns from his son, his wife, and his neighbors. 

The show tackles topics like misogyny, homophobia, and racism, but handles them in a way that doesn't aim to point fingers. Just as Hank learns to understand Bobby, viewers can learn to understand the various residents of Arlen. It's a great slice of life and full of empathy on every level. The two characters that serve as the show's moral compass are Bobby and his cousin Luanne (Brittany Murphy), and just as their elders teach them about things like fixing a spare tire or dealing with deadbeat roommates, they teach the older folks about being better human beings. 

There are a handful of small things that haven't aged perfectly in "King of the Hill," but that's largely just a byproduct of its time. If you need to laugh, learn about life, and occasionally have some big feelings, check out "King of the Hill." It's more wholesome than a slice of apple pie, and cheaper, too!